At Friday's Press Council public hearings press ombudsman Joe Thloloe stressed that the point of the exercise was not to engage in intense debate, but rather to enable the public and other interested parties to make submissions. The few in attendance raised some good points. Pity there wasn't a bigger audience to hear them. By ADRIAN BAILLIE-STEWART.
Friday's session was more informal and attendees were able to present pertinent issues in an atmosphere of comfortable, frank and casual debate. The panel for the day included Simon Mantell and Franz Krüger, both members of the SA Press Appeals Panel. The mix of attendees included George Claassen, ombudsman for Media24 Community Newspapers and professor in science journalism at the University of Stellenbosch, Murray Hunter of the Right2Know campaign and DA MP David Maynier.
Claasen raised concerns about the quality of science reporting in South Africa being extremely poor, drawing particular attention to the fact that what is presented as “scientifically factual” in press releases, is often far from proven scientific truth. This is especially worrying, given many journalists' over-reliance on press releases.
Photo: Franz Kruger, a member of the press appeals panel, chats with Murray Hunter from the Right2Know Campaign. Kruger stressed that the process of obtaining submissions from the public is not solely and directly related to the proposed Protection of Information bill.
Hunter suggested changes to the current press code, including greater protection for children who are the subject of news reports, and provisions around the unfair and illegal gathering of news. He also stated that establishing partnerships between the council and interested organisations was particularly important.
Regarding input by political parties, Maynier noted that should the DA feel it is worthwhile and necessary to make a submission, it would do so at the final hearings in Durban. The PAC has already indicated it will make a presentation at this session.
Photo: Joe Thlohoe, South Africa's Press Ombudsman; Right: Nafthali Hamhola, from the organisation Mbashiwa, was an enthusiastic contributor to the debate.
Low attendances have plagued the hearings and Friday's session was no different. Much of the apathy may be due to the perception that attending is not going to make any difference to the ruling party’s current stance on media issues. Still, it would be foolish for anyone who wishes to have his or her voice heard to simply abstain from participating. As the adage goes: “If you snooze you lose.” It's not too late to submit a presentation – not if you live in Bloemfontein or Durban anyway.
Once the public hearings close at the end of the week, the Press Council’s findings will be summarised and taken to Parliament for a final presentation. The public – and interested parties – won't have grounds to complain about the content of this presentation if they haven't taken the time to contribute. FAM
- Cape Town Press Council hearings speaking to empty chairs, again, at Free African Media.
Main photo: Franz Kruger, Joe Thloloe, and Johan Retief at the hearings in Cape Town on Friday. It's apparent that the Press Council's Thloloe and Retief are somewhat disappointed at the lack of attendance thus far, but it equally apparent that they're not giving up hope. Thloloe reminded presenters and attendees of the Friday session held in Cape Town that their submissions will be heard and duly noted.